I’ve been reading a couple books on networks. One was the Pentagon’s New Map, by Thomas Barnett. It was also an Esquire article, which is a quicker read. That got me thinking about some older stuff I’d read and things I studied and drew and wrote years ago. I can’t express that much, but it’s part of something I’ve been piecing together for a while.
Has a mathematical foundation, but examples make more sense. The brain is one. Rather than discrete id and ego, it’s actually a web of neural connections. Each neuron is a fairly simple biological structure and rules of communication. (Very) loosely they can fire or not fire, and if you toss a couple of billion of them together you can represent information and even responses. What is crucial is that you have simple components with a complex output, or the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The Internet is another example. You have computers which have a similar computational structure and similar rules of communication (TCP/IP, HTML). From that simple core you can get a wealth of information and communication and life. The Internet is not simply a library because its communicative functions make it more than the whole of its parts.
There are quite a few books which cover this in more detail, and I’ll quote from Nexus by Mark Buchanan here,
Social Networks turn out to be nearly identical in their architecture to the World Wide Web, the network of Web pages connected by hypertext links. Each of these networks shares deep structural properties with the food webs of any ecosystem and with the network of business links underlying any nationâ€™s economic activity. Incredibly, all these networks possess precisely the same organization as the network of connected neurons in the human brain and the network of interacting molecules that underlies the living cell.
The vital insight is that social relations and politics are networks, which gives them certain properties. It also means you can apply tools from a variety of disciplines to the study of politics, with surprising accuracy. Again, the crucial definition of a network is that it has similar components which interact according to common rules.
In general, the more complex your components, the crappier and more unpredictable the network. Humans are insufferably (or sufferably) complex, but in the end our relations do boil down to a few simple things. For all the fuss and poetry and conversation, the few things that people across cultures can understand is sex and violence. We can fuck and we can kill each other. If you’re looking for a rule-set that governs humanity, the two biological constants are reproduction and death. If you think about all the social functions that you get off your ass to go to, the two big ones are weddings and funerals. People spend hideous amounts of time and money with no measurable return. Why?
I’ve been going to a bit of weddings and funerals and I do wonder. What I wonder more than anything is why nobody else seems to wonder. Like, how do people just know that these things are important? We’ll say that we came for the free food or the booze or whatever, but that’s like having sex for the sensation. I mean, I’ll do it, but I can’t help but feel like a cog in something bigger. In the context of network theory, however, there is a measurable benefit.
Nihal de Silva’s funeral had literally hundreds upon hundreds of people there. I ran into at least ten people I know in the most random ways who were somehow connected through Nihal de Silva. I don’t mean to use him as an item, only to say that his positive connectivity touched an incredible amount and range of people. For example, I saw my sister’s best friend Roshana. I saw an inspiring guy who tossed me a lot of work through MAS, I saw the people I meet at Pub Quiz, and I saw a girl who works for my dad. None of these people really know each other, but they were all there on that day. From a purely network perspective, that funeral was an incredible contraction and refresh of the Sri Lankan social network. There were countless ties that were renewed that day, and that strengthens the network as a whole.
In the same way, weddings attract people from all over the globe I’d say not to get wasted or eat together, but to simply refresh and reconnect the network. You have two families who are becoming connected, and all their friends and relatives. Having that get-together is like having two parts of the brain come together and interlink to form a functional whole.
Humans function according to two biological constants, we live and we die. We can choose life through sex or death through violence. There are, of course, a whole set of other human interactions, but at the core those are the vital ones. They also apply to any culture on earth. All races can kill each other and they can all interbreed even though they can’t read each others poetry or stomach each others food.
Now, there is one guy who attends 99% of the weddings and funerals on earth, and people gather for him in enormous numbers. That is Faith, or God as it were. When it comes to binding or renewing the network there is nothing more powerful. Hell, Jesus gave us a common time (2006 AD) that underpins absolutely everything. Mohammed united a bunch or rowdy disparate people in his time, and the Buddha did the same. In fact they all do, still. The amount of people connected through Him is incredible. For that reason, whether you believe in it or not, I think God has to be included as a constant of sorts in any network analysis of humans. From a social science perspective, it simply doesn’t make sense to ignore something that has such a large effect. Whether is exists or not is irrelevant if it helps you predict their behavior.
As I said, this is actually part of a more rambling post and series of sketches that I’m trying to make digestible. They spring from a couple books I’ve been reading but they’re across a couple disciplines and it’s hard to connect the dots. I guess this is the closest I can get so far. This actually makes less sense than my rambling notes, but this incomplete sketch is what I have so far.
It’s supposed to have different quad or fivedrants. In times of anarchy you get Sex and Violence operating on an individual level. This ranges from War to Zombies. That is, when shit hits the fan, it breaks down and you get a very simple rule-set in operation. Of course, most animals don’t even function at that level, certainly not mammals. Most mammal altruism and stuff is (theoretically) mediated by kinship, as in family. This simply means that you get Sex and Violence controled at a family rather than an individual level. That is, limited intrafamilial violence and strict familial control of reproductive rights. Then you get race, which are people ‘related’ by some genetic and cultural markers, insomuch as I am ‘related’ to all Sinhalese. In this context, again, you get the sex and violence controlled and mediated. Then you get nation, which are people connected by law and culture, etc. Then you get another stage which is I don’t know what. This doesn’t make sense yet, but I think it could be a testable model. I’ve had these ideas bouncing around for a while and this is the first time I haven’t been working or toxic or tired. Spent all evening playing video games at Excel World with my cousin. It’s all about making that GTA.